David and Solomon : In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition
The exciting field of biblical archaeology has revolutionized our understanding of the Bible -- and no one has done more to popularise this vast store of knowledge than Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, who revealed what we now know about when and why the Bible was first written in The Bible Unearthed. Now, with David and Solomon, they do nothing less than help us to understand the sacred kings and founding fathers of western civilization.
David and his son Solomon are famous in the Bible for their warrior prowess, legendary loves, wisdom, poetry, conquests, and ambitious building programmes. Yet thanks to archaeology's astonishing finds, we now know that most of these stories are myths. Finkelstein and Silberman show us that the historical David was a bandit leader in a tiny back-water called Jerusalem, and how -- through wars, conquests and epic tragedies like the exile of the Jews in the centuries before Christ and the later Roman conquest -- David and his successor were reshaped into mighty kings and even messiahs, symbols of hope to Jews and Christians alike in times of strife and despair and models for the great kings of Europe. A landmark work of research and lucid scholarship by two brilliant luminaries, David and Solomon recasts the very genesis of western history in a whole new light.
Lacking clear archeological evidence or extrabiblical testimony, biblical scholars are often challenged in persuading a skeptical world that the Bible's characters really existed and that their stories are actual historical records. The task of separating myth from history can be a daunting one. Finkelstein and Silberman, both renowned archaeologists (Finkelstein chairs the archaeology department [at Tel Aviv University; Silberman is a contributing editor to Archaeology magazine), take a different approach: integrating ancient heroic and warrior archetypes into the lives of the kings of Israel, thus synthesizing history and myth in support of the religious endeavor. The authors are careful to note that the absence of contemporary confirmation outside the Bible is no reason to believe that the characters did not actually exist. Rather, the biblical stories form the basis for a legend tradition in which the Davidic legacy gradually transforms "from a down-to-earth political program into the symbols of a transcendent religious faith that would spread throughout the world." Finkelstein and Silberman, who also had a winner with The Bible Unearthed, tell their story in a clear and easily understood manner, never boring but always challenging. Discovery Club main selection, BOMC, QPB and History book clubs alternate selection. (Feb. 8)
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April 02, 2007
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Excerpt from David and Solomon by Israel Finkelstein
David, Solomon, and the Western Tradition
Ancient Legends, the Bible, and Archaeology
From the soaring cathedrals and elegant palaces of medieval Europe, to the hushed galleries of world famous art museums, to America's backwoods pulpits and Hollywood epics, the story of ancient Israel's sacred kings, David and Solomon, is one of western civilization's most enduring legacies. The figures of David -- shepherd, warrior, and divinely protected king -- and of his son Solomon -- great builder, wise judge, and serene ruler of a vast empire -- have become timeless models of righteous leadership under God's sanction. They have shaped western images of kingship and served as models of royal piety, messianic expectation, and national destiny.
Thanks to archaeology, we now -- for the first time -- can dissect the main elements of the biblical story to see when and how each one emerged. The results of our search may be surprising, for the archaeological discoveries of recent decades have clearly shown how far from the glamorous scriptural portraits the actual world of David and Solomon was. Yet the legend was not merely a romantic fiction of imaginary personalities and events. It evolved over centuries from a core of authentic memories into a complex and timeless literary creation. In its unforgettable images and dramatic scenes -- the battle against Goliath, the rise of David from outlaw to king, the splendor of Solomon's court -- the legend of David and Solomon expresses a universal message of national independence and transcendent religious values that people all over the world have come to regard as their own. Yet as we will see, its origins are traceable in the archaeology and history of a single small Iron Age kingdom as it grew from a village society into a complex state.
THE BIBLICAL STORY IN BRIEF
The most elaborate version of the David and Solomon story, contained in a narrative that extends from 1 Samuel to 1 Kings, describes how the people of Israel achieved independence and enjoyed a period of unprecedented prosperity. Attacked and oppressed in their highland villages by the brutal Philistine conquerors from the lowlands, the elders of Israel cried out for a leader who could protect them against their enemies. Until then, the Israelites had been governed in their separate tribes by spirit-filled "judges." At this time of crisis, the venerable prophet Samuel, following God's instructions despite his own misgivings, anointed Saul, a handsome youth of the tribe of Benjamin, to be the first king over all Israel. Saul was a daring military leader, yet he proved to be unstable, subject to deep bouts of depression, impetuous violence, and repeated violations of religious law. God's second choice thus secretly fell to David, son of Jesse, a young shepherd from Judah, who had been summoned to soothe Saul's fits of madness with the music of his lyre.
As the narrative develops, David's grand destiny unfolds, even as Saul continues to reign. On the field of battle against the massed Philistine armies, David topples the mighty Goliath and earns the acclaim of the nation, enraging King Saul. In a desperate flight into the wilderness to escape from Saul's murderous jealousy, David further proves his leadership, bravery, and skill. As the chief of a roaming band of mighty men, he settles scores, fends off enemy attacks, exacts God's vengeance, and distributes captured booty to the oppressed and poor. When Saul dies on the battlefield, David is proclaimed king of Judah and eventually of all Israel as God's true anointed one, or "messiah." It is a classic tale of the rise of the young hero, a warrior for the true faith and a man of extraordinary charisma, who assumes the mantle of a failed leader and becomes the embodiment of his people's hopes and dreams.